Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically:Book Review

Pastoral Ministry

       John MacArthur is currently the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. MacArthur received his education from Talbot Theological Seminary and the emphasis of his pulpit ministry is the careful study and verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible, with special attention devoted to the historical and grammatical background behind each passage. In 1986, MacArthur founded The Master’s Seminary, which is a graduate school dedicated to training men for full-time pastoral roles and missionary work.[1]

        As the fifth successive generation of pastors in his family, at the heart of MacArthur’s vision and mission is the training and equipping of the next generation of pastors, teachers, leaders, and missionaries. By identifying the extent to which society has fallen prey to a consumer driven paradigm, MacArthur sets out to recover, reaffirm, and restore a biblical approach to ministry. MacArthur points out, “To understand one’s role as a minister, one needs to understand the role of the church.”[2] Only by answering the questions as to why the church exists, and what purpose it serves today, can one truly quantify the specific and relevant tasks of any given pastor. To explain this point, MacArthur looks to the historical roles of pastors and compares the calling to that of a shepherd. As a shepherd, the pastor’s primary task is feeding and protecting the flock and this comes in the form of teaching them the Word of God.[3] Without sound teaching and biblical doctrine, the flock will starve and when they do not understand the Word of God, they cannot apply its truth to their daily lives. Upon establishing the theological and historical roles of the pastor, MacArthur shifts the focus to the character and calling of the pastor. He demonstrates in order for a pastor to remain faithful to his or her calling, intimacy with God must continually be the focal point, since Bible knowledge will only get the pastor to a certain point. To truly be effective in their calling, the pastor must also maintain a moral life centered on godliness. MacArthur demonstrates, “[While] the focal point of any ministry is godliness, ministry is, and always must be an overflow of a godly life.”[4] Next, MacArthur speaks to personal practices, which must be evident and demonstrates the pastor’s home is often the best indicator of character. He explains, “Sexual sin defiles the flock of God… [and] if you want to know whether a man lives an exemplary life, whether he is consistent, whether he can teach and model the truth, and whether he can lead people to salvation, to holiness, and to serve God, then look at the most intimate relationships in his home life and see if he can do it there.”[5] Lastly, as pastors, MacArthur illustrates the importance of living a life of integrity and above reproach, so when problems and misunderstandings arise, the pastors are equipped to handle them and this ability is rooted in godly character. MacArthur demonstrates, “Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity, possibly religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy.”[6] Pastors are held to a higher standard, so pastors must live a life modeled after Christ, which means they must be able to love the sheep, to feed the sheep, to rescue the sheep, to attend and comfort the sheep, to guide the sheep, to guard and protect the sheep, and to watch over the sheep.[7]

Critique

            For such a great collection of timeless principles with tremendous practical application, the one area this writer finds troubling is MacArthur’s primary focus solely being on men as pastors. With ten to twenty percent of most denominations having women pastors and thirty percent of Master of Divinity students being women,[8] it would seem having at least some application geared towards men and women would significantly add to MacArthur’s goal in training and equipping the next generation of pastors and leaders. Women, historically have had a huge impact, since the inception of the early church and the same holds true today. MacArthur illustrates, “A strong home begins with the pastor… [and] a weak home means a weak ministry,”[9] so if the woman is the pastor in the home, guidance is needed to help those classified in this example. Satan hates the family because of what it stands for: intimacy and unity with God and because anything God stands for Satan will either try to destroy, pervert, or counterfeit, the sanctity of the family must continually be safeguarded. As pastors, so much is sacrificed on the altar of ministry and for this reason MacArthur’s teaching would be significantly more relevant if it contained guidance for woman as pastors, regardless if they are married or not. MacArthur’s three biblical benchmarks all point to, “If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church?”[10] These statements and examples almost seem to invalidate the role of women as pastors. The one area this writer agrees with MacArthur on is ministry must be a joint decision, meaning the husband and wife must both be committed to full-time ministry, regardless if the pastoral calling applies to the man, the woman, or to both.

            What MacArthur exceedingly does well is illuminating how, “we as pastors tend to address surface problems without looking beyond them to the real problems facing the church, [demonstrating] if the only resource is to depend fully upon the Lord, then [we] would spend more time on our faces in His presence, seeking His help.”[11] The pastor’s strength is directly proportional to his or her faith, trust, and dependence on the Lord’s strength. It is in this area MacArthur stresses the importance of private and corporate prayer, studying God’s Word for personal reflection, in addition to sermon preparation, and worshipping God outwardly, inwardly, and upwardly.[12] These spiritual disciplines help sustain intimacy with God and will prevent ministry threats from gaining a foothold. MacArthur lists laziness as one of the greatest threats facing pastors,[13] which fits right in line with the congregations’ great weakness being complacency. Today’s culture demands everything faster, easier, and cheaper, but developing a relationship with God and people takes time, is sometimes extremely difficult, and can be very costly, as the needs of others are elevated above your own.

Evaluation

            The moral decay occurring in society is alarming and the number of pastors and leaders who suffer burnout or moral failures is equally as disturbing. Pastors are essentially God’s shepherds over His flock: the church, so this calling is not to be taken lightly. MacArthur and his fellows at The Master’s Seminary offer sound biblical principles with practical application, so this work would be beneficial for anyone currently serving or wanting to serve in a ministry setting and most of his perspectives can even be applied to the secular workplace. Every time-tested strategy and principle listed to becoming a better pastor can also be applied to becoming a better Christian. For those who feel called to ministry, this writer would highly recommend reading MacArthur’s views on what a pastor is supposed to be and do, the steps to identifying and answering the call to ministry, recommended equipping and training, and the importance of learning how to have compassion for God’s children. Knowing it roughly takes two to three generations to impact the status quo of what is viewed as cultural normal, this writer’s hope is for the upcoming generations to learn how to allow the love of Christ to fuel their ministry and empower their compassion for others. MacArthur has successfully shown the best way to maintain an authentic ministry involves being humble and being willing to work hard, even if it means going after the one lost sheep, while remembering what we as pastors do for the least of them, we do for the Master.

MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005, 363 pp. $29.99 (Hardback).

Bibliography

Grace Church Website, https://www.gracechurch.org/leader/MacArthur/John (accessed August 18, 2016)

MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005

Pulliam, Sarah. Christianity Today Website. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2009/august/women-pastors-remain-scarce.html (accessed August 18, 2016).


[1] Grace Church Website, https://www.gracechurch.org/leader/MacArthur/John (accessed August 18, 2016)

[2] John MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005), 50.

[3] II Timothy 4:2

[4] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 94.

[5] Ibid., 70.

[6] Ibid., 91.

[7] Ibid., 274.

[8] Sarah Pulliam, Christianity Today Website, http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2009/august/women-pastors-remain-scarce.html (accessed August 18, 2016).

[9] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 124.

[10] Ibid., 123.

[11] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 147.

[12] Ibid., 199.

[13] Ibid., 301.

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Tasks and Roles of a Pastor

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       Understanding the tasks, as well as the traits of a pastor are both crucial to fulfilling the calling God has placed on one’s life. Additionally, as John MacArthur points out, “To understand one’s role as a minister, one [also] needs to understand the role of the church.”[1] Only by answering the questions as to why the church exists, and what purpose it serves today, can one truly quantify the specific and relevant tasks of any given pastor. While the Bible does indicate several things a pastor should do, much more emphasis is placed on how they should conduct themselves. Additionally, the tasks between pastors will vary depending on the specific calling placed on their lives. God can use those He calls anywhere, so some will be called to shepherd, while others are called to preach, visit the shut-ins, care for the needy, or evangelize. The important thing to remember is one must be willing to serve wherever God plants them, while also trusting in His plan and His perfect timing. For the purposes of this assignment, the role of the pastor can best be compared to that of a shepherd caring for the flock of God: His children, the church.

Top Five Tasks of a Pastor and Why

          As a shepherd, the pastor’s first and primary task is feeding the flock and this comes in the form of teaching them the Word of God.[2] Without sound teaching and biblical doctrine, the flock will starve and when they do not understand the Word of God, they cannot apply its truth to their daily lives. This was something Paul ran into with the Corinthians. He told them, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.”[3]
As Gordon Fee explains:

With the words “you were not yet able,” Paul brings to a conclusion the long rehearsal of his former association with them. Both his preaching and their response to it are living evidence of the power and wisdom of the gospel. If they failed to see its wisdom, the fault was theirs, not his. Now he moves to their present situation as the evidence that the problem lay with them, not with him. He begins by repeating what he has just said, but now in the present tense. “Indeed, you are still not ready,” i.e. “you are not even now able.”[4]

         To be a shepherd was a mighty charge and in Paul’s final letter to Timothy, he wants him to know first of his steadfast suffering of the gospel and also what would be required of Timothy. Paul considered all of his converts as brothers and sisters and his love for God flowed directly to those he ministered to. Philip Towner demonstrates, “In the Greek world, formulaic charges of similar tone were made in installment ceremonies. Moses, who called on heaven and earth as witnesses, also made such charges.[5] The gravity of this charge being spelled out would not be missed.”[6]  This instructional task is still crucial today in leading and equipping the saints to do the work of the church.

         The secondary task of the pastor is protecting his or her flock as overseers.[7] This role is rooted out of the first, since the sound teaching of doctrine is vital to repelling the attacks of wolves and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Another facet of this role is the administrative aspect, which also points to exercising oversight and leadership. In Paul’s letter to Titus he lists seventeen qualifications the leader must possess: (1) blameless; (2) husband of one wife; (3) household under control; (4) not overbearing; (5) not quick-tempered; (6) not drunk off wine; (7) not violent; (8) not pursuing dishonest gain; (9) hospitable; (10) one who loves what is good; (11) self-controlled; (12) upright; (13) holy; (14) disciplined; (15) trustworthy to the message as it has been taught; (16) encourage others; and (17) refute those who oppose the Word of God. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck explain, “Not only must an overseer meet moral and spiritual standards in his [or her] personal life, but he [or she] must also be a reliable [person] of the Word.”[8]

        The third task of the pastor is fighting against what attempts to attack the flock. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) illustrates, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This task of the pastor runs in this same vein as training and equipping the flock to stand in the gap for each other, while also sharing one another’s burdens. F. F. Bruce illuminates,

The heavenly realm may be envisaged as comprising a succession of levels, with the throne of God on the highest of these and the hostile forces occupying the lowest. The level, which they occupy, is probably identical with “the domain of the air,” ruled[9] by “the spirit which now operates in the disobedient.” At any rate, these are real forces of evil, which are encountered, in the spiritual sphere, and they have to be withstood.[10]

         The fourth task of the pastor is modeling their life after Christ,[11] so that the way they conduct themselves is a living example of what their flock is also called to do. In most cases, this is a role that is often caught and not so much taught. When the flock knows and sees the pastor spending time in prayer, meeting the needs of others, and showing care and compassion to the lost and hurting, it speaks much louder than any sermon could accomplish. Peter Davids shows, “Jesus had clearly pointed out that the way of world at large was for leaders to domineer over the led, expecting obedience and the “perks” of leadership. But that was not to be the model His disciples were to follow.[12] His disciples were to be servants, not bosses; ministers, not executives.”[13]

        The fifth and final task of the pastor is to remain faithful to his or her calling. Bible knowledge will only get the pastor to a certain point. To be effective in their calling, the pastor must also maintain a moral life centered on godliness. MacArthur demonstrates, “[While] the focal point of any ministry is godliness, ministry is, and always must be an overflow of a godly life.”[14]

          Trying to define and understand the role of the pastors, elders, teachers, or leaders is not something new. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Fee illustrates, “He is dealing with their theological misunderstanding of the gospel, the church, and the role of their teachers.”[15] This was something that continually had to be addressed in both new and old churches. In James’ letter, he goes as far to caution, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”[16] This is not a very encouraging statement for those debating going into ministry, but as James Adamson demonstrates:

James turns to wisdom, and begins with a salutary and sympathetic caution to sincere Christians, warning them of the higher standards expected of leaders in wisdom, and the greater risks involved, since in speech, in which most of the teacher’s work is done, it is even harder than in bodily action to avoid the sin of error, willful or involuntary. All men commit many sins (including—but not only—teachers): that is precisely why men should be chary about incurring the risk of greater punishment, as we shall if we become teachers, entrusted, as teachers are, with increased knowledge.[17]

         As pastors, it is important to live a life of integrity above reproach, so when problems and misunderstandings arise, they are equipped to handle them. This ability is rooted in godly character and as MacArthur explains, “Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity, possibly religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy.”[18] Pastors are held to a higher standard, so knowing one’s roles and the role of the church is vital to becoming an effective pastor. Being a pastor is a mighty responsibility and as Bicket said, “If you can be happy outside the ministry, stay out. But if the solemn call has come, do not run… In the long run, ministry is what we are as much as what we do.”

Bibliography

Adamson, James B. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle of James. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005.

Towner, Philip H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Letters to Timothy. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Walvoord, John and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

 


[1] John MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005), 50.

[2] II Timothy 4:2

[3] I Corinthians 3:2 (ESV)

[4] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 126.

[5] Deuteronomy 4:26

[6] Philip H. Towner, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Letters to Timothy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 595.

[7] I Timothy 3:2

[8] John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 762.

[9] Ephesians 2:2

[10] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 406.

[11] I Peter 5:1-3

[12] Mark 10:42

[13] Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 180.

[14] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 94.

[15] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 156.

[16] Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 180.

[17] James B. Adamson, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle of James, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 138.

[18] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 91.